One of the great things about following beach volleyball, other than the sport itself, of course, is that you find yourself visiting parts of the world you might otherwise have missed. This year marks the 23rd edition of the FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour, which will make stops in more than a dozen countries across three continents. The tour opened April 18 in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia—a city often overlooked in favor of its more famous coastal counterpart, Rio de Janeiro. Fourteen men’s and 16 women’s events will take place as the tour moves from country to country, with a total prize purse of $7.64 million up for grabs. The tour features 10 opens, six grand slams and an Olympic Games test event for women. For men, the tour ends in the regal city of The Hague (the penultimate women’s event), the third largest city in The Netherlands, Aug. 23–28.
Known as Den Haag in Dutch, The Hague is best known for its exquisite architecture and for housing the country’s government as well as hundreds of international organizations, including the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court. These might not sound like tourist-friendly attractions, but for architecture buffs and art enthusiasts, The Hague is paradise.
Start at the Binnenhof, seat of the Dutch Parliament and a wonderful spot to wander. The grassy grounds are studded with majestic buildings, some of which date back to the 13th century. For those with a deeper interest in foreign politics, guided tours inside the Binnenhof take place daily, though if Parliament is in session you’ll have to forsake the tour and take the chance to sit in on the proceedings instead. The Peace Palace offers a similar experience. Sitting in exquisite grounds that are free to wander, this is the home of the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Guided tours (€5) happen on weekdays but not when court is in session (though you might be able to score a seat in the gallery if you want to observe). One of The Hague’s architectural gems, the Palace was built in the early 20th century, though its neo-renaissance façade appears far older. Tours should be booked in advance (vredespaleis.nl).
Nearby, the Mauritshuis Gallery houses Flemish and Dutch paintings in a 17th century mansion. The collection is impressive and even art avoiders might like a quick glimpse of Girl with a Pearl Earring, the Johannes Vermeer portrait that inspired a novel and an Oscar-nominated movie. While you’re in an arty mood, check out the incredible Panorama Mesdag. Painted in the late 19th century, the 360-degree painting measures 120 meters in length and depicts the nearby Scheveningen seaside. As you emerge from the staircase into the purpose-built circular gallery, the striking painting makes you feel you’re actually at the beach, a sensation aided by actual sand at the base of the canvas. Luckily, the real thing is not far away—a charming tram ride gets you to the beach portrayed in the panorama in less than 15 minutes.
This almost unpronounceable stretch of sand is one of the country’s favorite beach resorts and while it might be a little built up, it’s a great place to sunbathe, try out some water sports, enjoy a little European nude bathing (don’t worry—the nudists stick to one section of the beach) or enjoy the fun of the pier. There are some excellent seafood restaurants dotted around and a small museum if you want to learn about Scheveningen in its 19th-century heyday.
In the heart of The Hague near the Binnenhof, Le Bistroquet (Lange Voorhout 98, tel. +31-70-3601170) serves exquisite seafood, venison dishes and a very reasonably priced set three-course menu. In fine weather you can take lunch or dinner on the terrace and indulge in a little politician-spotting while you enjoy the French cuisine. The Hague also excels at Indonesian cuisine, with the bulk of the Indonesian restaurants (and stores) lying between the Binnenhof and the Peace Palace. Garoeda (Kneuterdijk 18a, tel. +31-70-3465319) is a long-established favorite, serving well-priced Indonesian classics. Over on the beachfront, seafood restaurants rule the roost and it can be tough to choose a spot to sample some fresh fish from the multitudes available. Try De Waterreus Beach restaurant (Strandweg 3A, Scheveningen, tel. +31-070-3586909), an affordable option with an unrivalled location just inches from the sand.
Whether you’re just passing through this part of Europe or lingering longer, sampling the amazing array of beers should be near the top of your “must-do” list. De Paas (Dunne Bierkade 16a, tel. +31-70-3600019) is one of The Hague’s premier beer cafés, serving an incredible 170 beers (161 in bottles, nine on tap). Take a seat inside the cozy pub or on the barge anchored in the canal outside and take some time to study the menu. Beers hail from almost a dozen nations (though most are from Belgium) and range from an alcohol-free pilsner to a near-lethal 13% golden ale. There’s something for every budget, with prices stretching from €3 to €11 and bar snacks are available to soak up some of the booze. De Passage (off Spuistraat) is a gorgeous covered shopping street—the only covered arcade remaining from the 19th century. Most of the stores are high-end, specialty vendors selling gifts, tobacco, jewelry and cookware, but it’s a delightful place to wander, even if you don’t buy.
Cities frequented by business travelers with access to an expense account tend to lack affordable accommodation options, but there are a few sleeping spots for travelers on a budget. The Netherlands abounds in well-equipped campsites and if you’re traveling with a tent you won’t find a shortage of attractive places to pitch. Camping Hoek van Holland is a little south of the centre, but its awesome location five minutes from the beach and its excellent amenities make up for the hike from town. Rates start at €20 for a four-person tent. (Wierstraat 100, Hoek van Holland, tel. +31-174-382550). If you’re looking for something a little fancier than canvas, but that doesn’t take its toll on the wallet, Hostel Den Haag (Scheepmakersstraat 27, tel. +31-70-3157888) is one of the city’s best hostels. Housed in a beautifully restored building, it’s right in the heart of The Hague. Dorms are relatively small, with eight beds per room, or there are private rooms with en-suite bathrooms. Free Wi-Fi, an on-site pub and a breakfast thrown in help to sweeten the deal. (Dorms €32 per person, double room €87). If you prefer to stay by the sea, the Boulevard Hotel (Seinpostduin 1, Scheveningen, tel. +31-70-3540067) is a well-priced option. Sitting right on the Scheveningen seafront, the simple rooms have free internet, TV and some even come with a whirlpool bath. Double rooms start at €85.
Originally published in July 2011